“It should be considered socially irresponsible for them to not have recycling bins.”
I mentally and verbally agreed with the passing stranger as I stood at my post by the doors to the outside food court.
In the giant space of the EY Centre near the Ottawa airport, I had come across two recycling bins – one tucked away in a hall that people were only allowed to be in for celebrity Q&As (and weren’t allowed food and drink) and one near a food stall.
Two recycling bins – with one in a non-accessible place – was nowhere near enough to properly manage the amount of recycling produced by 40,000 people buying bottled water.
It hurt my soul watching people throw them away.
I have attended Ottawa comiccon three times as a guest, but this was my first year volunteering. Large events are beehives for disposables – everyone is buying food in throw-away containers, using cutlery that can’t be recycled and drinking from cups lined with wax or plastic.
Knowing this, I prepared myself to be as green as possible. Mostly this involved bringing my own food, bamboo cutlery and stainless steel straw to the con, which apart from helping me avoid waste, also meant I didn’t spend any time in lengthy food lines and I had more money for art.
The second way I tried to reduce waste was by bringing a purple folder I’ve had since Grade 6 to protect the art I purchased and hopefully avoid some plastic sheathing. That didn’t work out all that well as some artists had already pre-packaged their prints and the two 11×17 prints I bought definitely didn’t fit in my 9×11 folder.
You win some, you lose some. But it’s important to learn, adjust and grow.
As I volunteered at the con it made me realize how much I love being a part of events. I love the hum, the rhythm, the sense of purpose. I may be an introvert, but being surrounded by so many like-minded geeky people that were as excited to talk about their favourite fandom as me, was energizing. However, I crashed hard every night, dead tired after being on my feet all day and exerting myself in the personality department. So worth it though because Jason Momoa spoke to me.
It also made me realize that one day I might like to switch my current job title, “Marketing Coordinator” for the title “Sustainability Coordinator” or “Environmental Officer” and help large events like this be as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible.
Some events are already trying to transition away from disposables, realizing the environmental impact that competitors, guests, attendees, fans etc. have when they’re consuming a diet of throw-away products.
You might have seen the video where the woman filmed the thousands of water bottles littering the streets after a recent race through London…while they were destined for recycling, recycling, according to Bea Johnson’s 5 Rs for going Zero Waste is supposed to be fourth on the list, not up at the top.
I work in a converted house with about 10 other people. Lately I’ve been really trying to improve our recycling habits. I’ve created signs to help people know what goes where and I do a daily audit (at the very least) of the bins to make sure everything’s in the right place. I will pull things out of the garbage or out of the on-counter compost if I have to.
Despite this, there’s still a lot of confusion about what can and can’t be recycled. Every province has different rules. Even from city to city it changes. The best way I’ve found to figure things out is the City of Ottawa’s Waste Explorer. It allows me to type in an object (i.e. coffee cup) and it tells me which bin it goes into.
Whenever I’m unsure, that’s where I go. It’s not perfect and sometimes my efforts feel trivial, but as much as I can, I’m going to help the recycling process go as smoothly as possible.
All this to say, is it’s not easy being green or going green, especially when running an event for 40,000 people that are hungry and thirsty. At the same time, the sheer size of these type of events means that any small change has a pretty significant effect. Which means the opportunity for sustainability and improvement is BIG and that is something to be excited about.